UNGKU A. AZIZ: Bilingual Approach to Learning

source: Nstonline

November 9, 2008

by Royal Professor Ungku A. Aziz*

MALAYSIAN nation building is founded on the realisation of national unity. Education must be one of the primary influences in the achievement of this objective. At the core of this policy is the teaching and learning of language.

Malay is the only vehicle which can ensure the achievement of genuine national unity. Simultaneously, English must be learnt in order to reap the full benefits of globalisation.

The advantages of the bilingual approach to language learning and teaching are mainly derived from mental interaction in an environment where the two languages are learnt at the same time.

This will stimulate the minds of children and adults who will be able to reinforce their thinking skills as well as their memory. Fluency in Malay, competency in English and integrative bilingualism are the key requisites for national unity.

While it is indisputable that competency in English is essential for economic and commercial development, there is an equal need for wide acceptance of the one language, Malay, that can genuinely bond together all Malaysian citizens, irrespective of their rural or urban location, race or religious background.

Two languages, Malay and English, should be taught and learnt throughout the 11 years of education and, where possible, from the first tertiary year. Language, for the formation of national unity, has to be taken seriously and not given casual lip service. It should be taught for at least two periods a week.

A thorough grounding in grammar of both languages is as important as the development of an ever-expanding vocabulary and phraseology according to common usage.

Very early on, every student should be taught correct chirography so that from the start, students will write letters that have uniform shapes. Malaysian students seem to write alphabetical letters in amorphous shapes that are often unintelligible.

Malaysian educators and political leaders need to realise that Malay and English each have different syntaxes, grammar and historical backgrounds. Therefore, each needs to be learnt according to their respective languages.

The Malay language is founded on the principles of affixation (imbuhan). One hundred and forty years ago, William Marsden (author of A Dictionary of the Malayan Language) called them particles. There are prefixes (pe, mer, ber, etc), suffixes (kan, i, etc) and infixes (em, er, etc). There are special words for the functions of place, tense, singularity and plurality.

The significance of affixation can be easily understood. A count of items in Kamus Imbuhan Bahasa Melayu (Fajar Bakti 2005) shows that 95 per cent of the words were associated with an affix. Out of a total of 2,323 base words consisting of nouns and verbs, there were 11,405 instances of affixation.

Most Malay words consist of a pair of consonants and vowels whose pronunciation are commonly understood. But this is not the time to discuss the finer points of Malay grammar. Incidentally, both languages have pedigrees that stretch back at least a thousand years and include poetry that can be easily understood by children and adults.

Malay has a history of over a thousand years during which time it discovered its own grammar, poetry and phraseology. Malay has drawn extensively on cognate sources that have assimilated inputs from other languages, including Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Portuguese and Dutch.

English grammar is the result of English history as it was formed during the past millennium.There is a reasonable degree of unanimity as to the correct usage of Malay and English among the teaching profession and the academics.

Two further points need clarification. Both languages will have to be learnt up to the point where they can be equally understood by the beginning of the secondary system. The respective shares of other subjects in the timetable will have to be appropriately reallocated.

All schoolchildren should be given the opportunity of learning other languages in Malaysia. A distinction needs to be made between learning any language and using a language as the main medium of instruction via Malay and English.

Insufficient attention has been given to the notion that language learning, and indeed the accumulation of knowledge, is closely tied to the growing mental capacity of children. Primary children can be taught simple nouns and verbs of one or two syllables. As they mature, they can learn more complex ideas associated with appropriate nouns and verbs.

They should proceed from concrete words to abstract words and from simple phrases or sentences to more complex or sophisticated expressions.

The Malaysian education system should seriously reconsider its preference for the inductive approach as compared to the deductive approach in language teaching and learning in Malaysia. This is more rational and likely to be more effective in the total learning systems.

In conclusion, language learning for national unity involves three stages : thinking, learning and using.

Some readers may raise the usual pessimistic objections and try to bury this proposal by claiming that the three-way approach is too idealistic and not sufficiently pragmatic. Readers should study the proposals in detail and not get lost in the forest by giving too much attention to the twigs and leaves rather than the roots.

One of the most dangerous death traps for this proposal is the, “yes but…” or, “it will take too much time…”. Its collaborator is a form of academic logomachy (word-making) which can be utterly unconstructive.

The first step is to convince the political and professional elites of its feasibility, and then students, teachers and parents will follow. Otherwise, Malaysian pedagogy will fall into a tunnel from which there will be no escape. It could be known as “Pedagogy in Wonderland”. (With apologies to Alice and Lewis Carroll.)

The lack of space prevents me from discussing a variety of collateral topics such as learning in the mother tongue, whatever that may be.

Moral, faith and religious education as well as education for entrepreneurship should be considered. Opportunities for physical activity should be provided to students of all ages and gender in the spirit of having a healthy mind in a healthy body.

The sensitive issue of trilateral racial polarisation should be bravely and calmly faced. Malaysian cultural and educational trends tend to be centrifugal (moving outwards from the centre) rather than centripetal (spiralling inwards). National unity is constantly threatened by the rise of divisive and dysfunctional pressures.

The strengthening of national unity would be one of the best benefits from the adoption of the three-way approach.

Besides the widening and strengthening of vocabularies, there should be serious efforts to interest all students, parents and, of course, teachers in expanding their cultural horizons by reading an ever widening range of works in the various fields of knowledge, science and literature in both languages, including translations from a variety of languages. Reading should be enjoyed for its own sake as well as for passing examinations.

The relative importance of the respective subjects can be discussed when this main thesis is broadly accepted. There is neither the time nor the space to decide now whether History, as taught in schools, should be learnt as a compulsory subject rather than Biology or Geography.

The prime objective is to achieve competency in the two languages while other choices should be subject to decisions that are based on rational, objective and empirical ideas.

The fundamental role of teachers should be respected. In fact, the teaching profession should be recognised as being on par with the civil service so that parents and political leaders can give it due respect.

Malaysia’s survival needs a clear, rational response to the resolution of teaching and learning English and Malay within a bilingual context. This proposal offers a unique opportunity for all Malaysian citizens to accept the one change that could satisfy practically everybody.

* Ungku Aziz is a Royal Professor of Economics and former Vice Chancellor, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

It’s time to close ranks and get on with job


Tunku Aziz has always been a thoughtful writer who presents his views diplomatically and in a balanced and reasoned manner. In this piece, however, he has come out very strongly against former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir for meddling in the affairs of UMNO in a totally unhelpful way. I said to Tunku Aziz in my telephone conversation with him this morning that his article is a very strong indictment against the former Malaysian strong man. This very strong reaction from the Tunku in this article probably reflects his sense of outrage and disgust at the political games of Tun Dr. Mahathir and his supporters in UMNO.

Tunku Aziz adds,, “…Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s role in the clamour for Abdullah’s political demise is sad and pathetic for a man who should be helping to heal the wounds and in the process ensure that UMNO would rise quickly to political eminence once again as a real party of the people with all that this implies”.

I may not agree with the “political eminence” bit as I feel that UMNO which is a feudal, anachronistic, and racial centric party, is now at a stage of “secular decline”. It is a matter of time before it implodes. Is it any wonder that Tunku Aziz and I had not joined UMNO inspite of the attractions of the so-called benefits of the NEP which did not gel with us?

I say this because the politics of our country has changed, in part due to Anwar Ibrahim. The future of our country will be in the hands of leaders like Anwar who can craft a future free from the yolk of ethnicity and corruption.

Tunku Aziz’s advice to the Tun is very direct to the point of being blunt and I quote: “The likes of Dr Mahathir should step back and reflect on the enormous good that they, because of their wisdom and influence, can bring to bear on our troubled and still psychologically divided nation by allowing elected leaders to discharge their national responsibilities without driving them to distraction by uncharitable, destructive acts of vengeance”.

I find no cause to disagree with it since it is in keeping with my own view that as an elder statesman, Dr. Mahathir should be a positive influence on UMNO, actively participating in helping UMNO recover from the recent election debacle. The task of changing UMNO’s corrupt and money politics is by no means easy. It becomes impossible when there is internal dissension and meddlesome former leaders.

No one seems to be good enough to run the country as far as Dr. Mahathir is concerned. Even Anwar Ibrahim who is by popular acclaim the man who can take our country forward is “unacceptable” for the Tun’s own reasons. To him Anwar is only fit to be ”Prime Minister of Israel”. What a compliment!! If he is good to be acceptable to the Israelis, Anwar is certainly the man for Malaysia.

Dr. Mahathir had the same not “good feeling” about Tun Musa Hitam and Tunku Razaleigh Hamzah in the latter part of 1980s when he anointed Anwar Ibrahim as his successor. In 1998, he dismissed and put Anwar Ibrahim in gaol on trumped up charges.

Since no one can do a better job, am I then to speculate that Dr. Mahathir probably thinks that he is the saviour of Malaysia and UMNO? Is he ? Years ago, I would have thought so since he enjoyed my highest admiration, respect and trust. I was in a state of denial for many years. The spell is now broken and I see him as a tormented and embittered former leader who is wrestling unsuccessfully with his bad conscience and will not rest until he got his pound of flesh, no matter how much it bleeds.(Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice).

Let us, Malaysians, join Param Cumaraswamy, Tunku Aziz and others in their call for a sort of “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” so that we can begin on a new slate. If South Africa under Nelson “Madiba” Mendela, Desmond Tutu and F. W. de Klerk had the courage and the moral fortitude to own up to their failures, why can’t we in Malaysia.—Din Merican

(with permission from the writer)

By : Tunku Abdul Aziz

THE 12th general election created enormous shockwaves never before experienced in our 51 years of independence.

The nation woke up on March 9 to find itself forcibly lifted and tossed into a maelstrom that churned up mixed and confused reactions of despair, jubilation, apprehension, humiliation and betrayal. Mercifully, that highly-charged upheaval of the senses that swept across this land with such devastating emotional impact is just now beginning to recede into the deepest recesses of our collective sub-consciousness.

No doubt, the events surrounding the elections will become part of our political folklore. They will be retrieved and played over and over again in the months and years to come as a reminder of an epoch-making social and political phenomenon that changed dramatically the way we were conditioned to view the practice of politics, and the political landscape of our country that is now almost unrecognisable. I thought before “election fatigue” sets in, I should have my last say on the subject.

To begin with, I find it extraordinary that people who have not the remotest connection with the United Malays National Organisation are now screaming for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi’s blood, demanding that the party president must step down because of the electoral reverses sustained by Umno and its coalition partners.

Barisan Nasional still governs the country, with a comfortable majority in a parliament that for the first time in history has become more representative. Was not this, and a stronger opposition, that we had clamoured for in the past? The electoral process has punished the government for its perceived shortcomings, and obviously this is not enough for some who are now demanding, quite unfairly, in my view, an extra-electoral political extermination.
Whether Abdullah stays or steps down as Umno president is a matter for him and his party to decide in accordance with their established party rules, procedures and practices. We sometimes tend to forget that he is the Umno president first and last. It is only by virtue of his party leadership that he is the king’s prime minister.

Clearly, Abdullah is not going to run away from his “responsibility”. He accepts his part in the debacle that has left Umno scarred and bloodied but not, by any stretch of the imagination, grievously wounded. There is much life and spirit left in that old girl, (Umno, I mean, not Abdullah) the mother of Malay nationalism and political awareness. Abdullah, its leader, is not about to take the easy way out and leave the mess for others to clean up.

He is swallowing the bitter pill like a man, with courage and dignity, though not, I expect, with any great relish. He is not too proud to pick up the pieces himself and to lick the wound, all understandably very humiliating to a lesser man.

It takes enormous moral and spiritual courage to admit his mistakes. Let history and Umno, his party, be the judge of his leadership. We who are not card-carrying Umno members should, in all fairness and decency, keep our opinions to ourselves and stop barking up the wrong tree.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s role in the clamour for Abdullah’s political demise is sad and pathetic for a man who should be helping to heal the wound and in the process ensure that Umno would rise quickly to political eminence once again as a real party of the people with all that this implies.

Instead, he chooses to camp outside the castle wall shouting invectives and taking one pot shot after another at his hapless successor who is trying to mend the fences and get on with the job.

Dr Mahathir over the last few years has emerged and become widely known as someone with a highly developed selective memory, if not amnesia itself. He has forgotten that he picked Abdullah because he must have believed that his erstwhile deputy was the right man for the highest public office in the land.

If Dr Mahathir now believes that he had in the event made a wrong choice and Abdullah has not been dancing to his former master’s discordant music, it merely confirms that Dr Mahathir is a bad judge of people.

Musa Hitam and Anwar Ibrahim, too, were given short shrift, and in the case of Anwar, that is putting it mildly. But, then, Dr Mahathir chooses not to remember.

Dr Mahathir, the wily political street fighter, has apparently not lost his penchant and flair for controversies. He has always thrived on crises, and as someone remarked to me the other day, “if there was no crisis, he would waste little time in inventing one”.

The most dishonourable of his innumerable crisis machinations, perhaps intrigues would better describe his actions, was the shamelessly orchestrated “constitutional crisis” against the sultans when he was at the height of his absolute power, and craving more.

He was tireless, verging on the maniacal, in his abuse of the media to demonise our constitutional rulers who had no means of defending themselves.

For him, in this as in other cases, including the “judicial crisis” in which the lord president and a number of senior judges became victims of his cruel, unethical conduct, the end always justified the means.

He now expects the world to accept his callous statement that it was the tribunal that should be blamed, not he whose hands are whiter than white. Dr Mahathir is so confident of his “cleanness” that he has issued a challenge for him to be investigated for corruption and other acts of wrong doing.

My advice, in all seriousness, is not to tempt fate as it could be a self-fulfilling wish. I find all this “wayang kulit” a little rich even for my cast-iron stomach, but I am prepared to use my international network to form an independent investigation team to look into one or two of the most outrageous revelations of abuse of power that are in the public domain. Just say when.

Umno was shown the door on this occasion because it was perceived as continuing to practise the excesses of the Dr Mahathir era: disdain for public opinion, deals behind closed doors and undue reliance on cronyism in one form or another. Poor management of information by an incompetent ministry that kept churning out more and more information which somehow managed to look and sound like cheap propaganda. It was quickly taken apart and shown in the worst possible light by the better educated and organised minds of many of those writing on the lowly blogs.

The controlled, second-guessing media were handicapped by their very nature from the start. I am glad that the government is learning something from the outcome of the elections. The real purpose of information is to communicate understanding, not confusion and cynicism.

Now that the dust is beginning to settle, we must close ranks, narrow the race-based political divide, rectify mistakes of the past and move on to create a nation that practises equality before the law as well as respect for human rights for all of our people.

The likes of Dr Mahathir should step back and reflect on the enormous good that they, because of their wisdom and influence, can bring to bear on our troubled and still psychologically-divided nation by allowing elected leaders to discharge their national responsibilities without driving them to distraction by uncharitable, destructive acts of ven-geance.

Tunku Aziz is a former special adviser to the United Nations secretary-general on ethics. He can be contacted at tunkua@gmail.com.